‘ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions’ Sneak Peak!

‘Writing The Tunes’ is an essay from the eagerly awaited, revised and expanded book  ‘ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions’ by ABBA historian and acclaimed author Carl Magnus Palm. It is a fascinating account of the roles and responsibilities that Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus take on during the songwriting process. Here is an exclusive sneak peak…

Carl Magnus Palm
Carl Magnus Palm – Photo: bjornfotograf.se

The start of a songwriting period was always the hardest for the team: getting over the initial threshold. “After we release an album we don’t write for two or three months,” Björn explained at one point, “so when we start again it’s really hard and nothing helps but hard work.” The discipline of working day after day, hour after hour, Monday through Friday during office hours, was crucial for these particular writers; it was their method for getting the creative juices flowing. Björn was very firm about it in a 1982 interview. “There is nothing bohemian about [writing songs]. It’s a job that requires good character and discipline, like every other profession. That thing about writing when inspiration hits you, and usually in the middle of the night: both Benny and I quickly realised that it’s just a myth.” Like most songwriters, then, Andersson and Ulvaeus had concluded that if they would just wait for “inspiration”, they would never get any work done: the magic feeling of being possessed by something of an almost spiritual nature would emerge only through the work itself. “Inspiration comes at the exact moment when you hear that you’re on to something that’s good,” as Benny once phrased it.

So what would happen during these songwriting sessions? It was quite a simple set-up: Benny would be at the piano, or whatever keyboard instrument was handy, with Björn sitting beside him, armed with an acoustic or electric guitar. Then they’d start playing chords, humming ideas for melodies, throwing riffs and fragments of songs at each other, grabbing hold of the other person’s idea and take it to the next level. “All of a sudden,” Benny explained in a 1974 interview, “one of us will sing something that turns you on and then you play that thing, trying to develop it.”

The melody lines they’d be working on didn’t necessarily originate during the songwriting session: they would bring ideas to the room where they both were sitting, but those ideas would more often than not have emerged when they were alone. Rarely, however, would those melodies pop up while they were out walking or shopping, or were simply busy doing nothing; it was when actively playing music that the ideas would come. “You don’t write a good song in an hour,” explained Benny many years later. “You need to have two months [of] trying out ideas, before writing the good song in that hour. … If you don’t sit there and if you don’t work on it really hard, trying to achieve something and trying to make something good, it’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen sitting in the car, thinking, ‘Oh I have this good idea’, nothing like that. I have to sit at a piano or a keyboard and play through the rubbish, and get rid of that, and sometimes things will pop out and I can say, ‘This is good.’”

As many have witnessed and he himself admits, Benny always found it hard to resist playing a piano wherever there was one available and it was through sitting at the keyboards hour after hour, just playing away, that all the music he’d ever heard in his life, combined with his own tastes, temperament, inclinations and feelings, would suddenly result in brand new melody lines travelling from his brain and out to his fingers. “I actually think that this is what ‘composing’ is really about, that the music has to exist before you play it,” he says today. “It’s not about sitting there improvising, as it were, it’s about sitting at the piano and wait for this thing that already exists to arrive. You want to watch your hands play something that you haven’t heard before, but which really is structured, in some way. And that takes time – usually you have to wait a very long time.”

Coming up with melody lines that felt right, that were worth developing, was a completely intuitive process. “I don’t know what it is that makes you choose like you do,” Benny says. “If I’m playing for four hours straight, trying to arrive at something that might be used for something, which I believe that I’ve invented, then I can’t really say why this melody line or these four bars in particular are what I decide to keep instead of all the other ideas that have come up. I just don’t know. The only thing I can say is that it feels right.”

What Björn and Benny would be doing once they got together, was to piece all those ideas together into a coherent song. “We don’t really adhere to any principle when we write songs; we just play around,” said Björn in a 1977 interview. “We both look for something and we both know when we find it and that’s an incredible feeling, the best kick you can get.” Rarely would they try to write a specific kind of tune: whatever came up during the writing, that they liked, they would go with. “Of course,” Benny admitted at the time, “if we’ve written eight songs for an album and we need two more, and all those eight songs are ballads, you don’t aim for writing two more ballads. But they may turn out to be anyway.”

If they were lucky, the process of coming up with a cohesive tune could in itself be relatively quick. The normal course of events, however, was that it took a lot of time, since their quest for the strongest possible melody ensured that at least 90 percent of their ideas for melody lines and song fragments would be discarded. “Sometimes it takes you a week and there is no song at all – or two weeks,” Benny explained in a 1980 interview, “and sometimes it takes four hours and there is almost a complete song there”.

They would be ruthless against themselves: just a catchy chorus wasn’t enough, they wanted the entire song to be solid, in all its parts, from start to finish, “never leaving a song until we feel it’s the best thing we’ve done,” as they once put it. But there wasn’t a fixed pattern as to the order in which the song would be put together: for example, they didn’t necessarily start with the chorus and then build the rest of the song around it. Says Benny, “You start at one end, with whatever you’ve come up with – four bars, or eight, or just a phrase you like – and then you use that as the starting point. And that could be any part of the song.”

Although Benny has always been, in Björn’s vernacular, “the musical motor” in the Andersson/Ulvaeus partnership, supplying most of the ideas for their songs, this does not mean that Björn never contributed anything. By the time his and Benny’s collaboration truly kicked off, towards the end of the 1960s, Björn had already proved himself as a tunesmith, having had a dozen of his songs recorded, several of which were strong, catchy tunes. Clearly, such an ambitious songwriter wouldn’t just sit and wait for Benny to come up with ideas. It is true, however, that as the nature of their collaboration evolved, Björn would take on the role of “editor” of the ideas that flowed from his colleague, essentially being Benny’s sparring partner. Parallel with this development, his interest in lyric-writing grew, and today’s Andersson/Ulvaeus songs are strictly music by the former, lyrics by the latter.

While Benny remembers several melody lines for ABBA songs coming to him, today Björn can’t remember any specific parts of tunes that he himself contributed. “Benny provided most of the music even in the early days,” he admits, “but it’s awfully difficult to say exactly where things start and end during the songwriting process.” And, as Benny points out, the Andersson/Ulvaeus partnership has never been about that type of issue. “It’s an interesting question, to pinpoint who does what in a song. It might be that one of us brings along a song that is complete: both of us feel that it’s complete, so that’s what it is. But let’s say that the song is complete, and then one of us says, ‘Wait a minute, what if we do it like this at that point in the song?’ and then we both agree, ‘Yeah, that’s really great!’ Who has written the song then? Is it the work of one person or of two persons? In other words, if we agree on a thing together, then both of us have been equally involved. In that respect there’s a tremendous difference between being alone and being together.”

ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions cover
ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions

The book ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions by Carl Magnus Palm is a must for every ABBA fan. Pre-order your copy at abbathecompleterecordingsessions.com.

‘Fellow’ Benny unveils new composition at KMH royal gala opening

On Thursday 26 January, Stockholm’s Royal College of Music, celebrated the opening of its new campus with an inauguration ceremony which featured a specially penned piece of music by Benny Andersson with lyrics by Björn Ulvaeus, Vi äger drömmarna (We Own The Dreams).

Benny acknowledges the audience’s appreciation

Benny, who has helped raise the money needed to fit out the new state-of-the-art building through his involvement with the ‘Music For Millions’ fundraising campaign, attended the prestigious event accompanied by his wife Mona.

Görel Hanser was also among the invited guests along with Göran Arnberg from Benny’s band who is an alumni of Kungliga Musikhögskolan (KMH) and wrote the choral arrangements for Benny and Björn’s new composition.

The gala ceremony, attended by luminaries and royalty including His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, began with a champagne reception in the futuristic, atrium style foyer that connects the original brick stables with the glass and steel structure of the new building.

Following  the unveiling of a large brass plaque engraved with the names of the project’s most significant donors, KMH students performed a contemporary piece from platforms around and above the room before guests were invited to take their seats in the Royal Hall.

Once inside, the concert continued with a mixture of modern, folk and traditional works by acclaimed Swedish composers including Karin Rehnquist and Jesper Nordin.

The students performed the choral Vi äger drömmarna, towards the end of the performance. Benny took the stage briefly afterwards to acknowledge the applause and thank the conductor and musicians.

Benny is only the 9th person to receive a KMH Fellowship

Interspersing the evening’s musical programme were a number of inaugural speeches and presentations, one of which included bestowing Benny with an Honorary Fellowship of Kungliga Musikhögskolan.

According to the music school, the title is only awarded to “particularly deserving persons of great artistic and educational inspiration and integrity”.

The inscription on Benny’s certificate translates as: ‘For rich and multi-faceted achievements as a composer, musical arranger, band leader and instrumentalist, a great commitment to younger fellow musicians and the support of KMH and its students.’

Benny is only the 9th person in the school’s history to have received the honour and he joins the likes of opera singer Birgit Nilsson, violinist Isaac Stern, record producer Sir George Martin and choral conductor Eric Ericson.

(c) 2017 Mono Music AB/Kopparnäset Immaterialrättigheter AB

Speaking to icethesite after the ceremony Benny said in his usual humble manner:

“I have no idea why they think I deserve to receive the Fellowship, but I am extremely honoured and happy that they do. I think it is a very nice collection of names to be a part of.”

Benny also told us that he does hope to record Vi äger drömmarna one day, however, he doesn’t know who will perform it, or when or where it will eventually appear.

Thursday’s concert is scheduled to be broadcast on Swedish radio on 9 February and film from the ceremony will be included on a TV documentary about KMH to be shown later this year.

KMH’s housewarming party continues into this weekend with a packed programme of free concerts, workshops and events open to the public.

There’s more…

Benny and Björn celebrate 50 years of musical collaboration and friendship

Before the guests arrived: BAO rehearsing at Berns Salonger in Stockholm on 05 June.
Before the guests arrived, BAO rehearsing at Berns Salonger in Stockholm on 05 June.

Sunday 5 June 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the day that Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus first met.

One of the world’s most successful and enduring musical collaborations was celebrated in grand style at a private party at Berns Salonger in Stockholm.

The party was attended by 350 guests, all of whom Benny and Björn have worked with during their career, including Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Görel Hanser, Michael B Tretow, Tommy Körberg, Helen Sjöholm and BAO, Tim Rice, Murray Head, Judy Cramer, Peter Jöback, Thomas and Marie Ledin, Lill-Babs, Kristina Lugn, Björn Skifs and Janne Schaffer, to name but a few!

Sir Paul McCartney (Björn and Benny have often acknowledged the massive influence The Beatles made upon their early careers) sent a video message conveying his congratulations.

The celebrations commenced at 18.15 (a reference to the year of the Battle of Waterloo) with a champagne reception during which Benny and Björn both made short welcoming speeches.

While the guests enjoyed dinner, a video of old photographs and interviews from the 1960s played on a big screen.

Some of the guests took to the stage in musical tribute: Benny’s sons Ludvig and Peter performed Rock Me, Helen Sjöholm sang Where I Want To Be, Peter Jöback  Det kan ingen doctor hjälpa and Svenne Hedlund Isn’t It Easy To Say. There were also performances from Lill-Babs, Lena Philipsson and Pernilla Wahlgren.

Benny said that most of the entertainment was as much a surprise for him and Björn as it was for the invited guests, having been planned in secret by a committee consisting of Ludvig, Görel, Lars Rudolfsson and the evening’s toast-master Claes af Geijerstam.

“When we started talking about throwing a party about a year back, Ludvig suggested that maybe they should do something that we didn’t know about,” Benny told us. “It is incredible that so many people wanted to participate. We had such a great time and I think they did too,” he said.

Later in the evening Benny’s band, BAO (Benny Anderssons Orkester), entertained with an hour long set of songs old and new, including their hit Du är min man, performed with a comic twist of Tommy singing the female vocals inferring that Benny and Björn’s relationship was like that of a couple!

However, for many, the highlight of the night was undoubtedly when Agnetha and Frida joined Benny and Björn on stage for the second time in just a few months. And this time they sang!

The female half of ABBA performed a moving duet of The Way Old Friends Do, from their 1980 album Super Trouper, while Benny (piano) and Björn (vocals) performed another classic from the ABBA catalogueDoes Your Mother Know. 

Afterwards, Frida said that it had been a very special occasion: “It was absolutely amazing. A lot of emotions. It’s been very nostalgic,” she told journalists.

Benny told icethesite that he had no idea that Agnetha and Frida were going to sing. “I think it was just so wonderful that they did that for us. I think they were really brave!” he said.

The party continued well into the early hours.

There’s more…

BAO new album – Mitt hjärta klappar för dig

The new 11-track album by BAO (Benny Anderssons Orkester) is called ‘Mitt hjärta klappar för dig’ and is scheduled to be released on Friday 10 June in Sweden. The first single, due shortly, is ‘En natt i Köpenhamn’.

Benny Anderssons Orkester
Benny Anderssons Orkester – Photo: Peter Knutson

In a change from what was reported previously, the album will consist of 11 tracks. This is in order that the vinyl version (where space is limited) can match that of the CD release. The vinyl version is slated for a mid-July release.

Of the ten tracks with vocals (all in Swedish), nine have lyrics written by Björn Ulvaeus and one features lyrics by Frida Hyvönen.

Mitt hjärta klappar för dig
Mitt hjärta klappar för dig – due June 10

Mitt hjärta klappar för dig – tracklist

  1. En natt i Köpenhamn
  2. Bara bara du
  3. Hem till mamma
  4. Minnena bleknar med tiden
  5. Summa summarum
  6. Timmarna går så fort när man har roligt
  7. En svala gör ingen sommar
  8. Smoochy (instrumental)
  9. Isabella Rahm (lyrics by Frida Hyvönen)
  10. Mitt hjärta klappar för dig
  11. Ticka ticka väckarklocka

For more information on BAO, please check out the Benny Anderssons Orkester Facebook page.

When Björn Ulvaeus met Richard Dawkins

When Björn Ulvaeus met Richard Dawkins was filmed at Stockholm's Cirkus theatre.
‘When Björn Ulvaeus met Richard Dawkins’ was filmed at Stockholm’s Cirkus theatre.

In the video embedded below, former ABBA member Björn Ulvaeus meets author, ethologist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

The meeting was recorded on 12 December 2015 at the Cirkus theatre in Stockholm. The pair discuss Dawkins’ work on the front line of research and about their joint fight against superstition and fallacies.

Björn is a prominent member of the Swedish Humanist Association and has written articles about his humanistic approach to life. On joining the Humanist society, Björn said: “When I saw irrational, religious conservative values and hostility against science influencing society, I searched for an organisation that deals with these questions.”

Dawkins’ book Kampen mot illusionerna (Fight against delusions) seen in the background of the video revolves around the second half of his eventful life and relates his encounters and experiences linked to science and research. The organisers of the event were Fri Tanke Publishing House and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

The video lasts for 1 hour, 7 minutes.

There’s more…

Mamma Mia! The Party premieres in Stockholm

When ‘Nikos Taverna’ opened its doors for the Mamma Mia! The Party premiere in Stockholm, the four former ABBA members, Agnetha Fältskog, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Anni-Frid (Frida) Lyngstad, were all there to help kick off the event.

ABBA reunited at Mamma Mia! The Party in Stockholm

The evening got underway at 6pm, it was dark and minus 7 degrees outside but that didn’t stop ABBA fans from lining the pavement in the hope of seeing members of the Swedish supergroup arrive. Nearby, inside a specially erected (and heated!) marquee, the equally excited press jostled for space alongside the deep blue ‘Red Carpet’.

The first to arrive was Frida, accompanied by her long-term partner Henry Smith. Benny and his wife Mona followed shortly behind them. A rumour circulated that Agnetha had slipped in through another door, but at just after 7pm, she too made her entrance along the carpet. Björn’s arrival with wife Lena completed the set.

(L-R) Benny, Frida, Björn and Agnetha on the red carpet on the way into the event.

All four spent time posing for photos and answering questions from the waiting journalists before making their way into Gröna Lund’s recently converted Tyrol restaurant.

The premiere was also attended by Benny Andersson’s sons Peter and Ludvig, Björn and Agnetha’s son Christian and Björn’s daughters Emma and Anna. The star studded guest list included Görel Hanser, Micke B Tretow, Tommy Körberg, Helen Sjöholm, Gunilla Backman, Judy Cramer, Catherine Johnson, Matthias Hansson, Ingemarie Halling, Björn Borg, Alcazar

… and a handful of lucky fans.

Upon entering ‘Nikos’, the invited guests were greeted by Greek Gods bearing trays of Ouzo shots, before being shown to their tables.

Inside, the temperature was that of a Greek summer evening. Vines trailed the crumbling walls, fountains danced and the air was heavy with the scent of olive trees and jasmine. As the evening progressed, the light gradually faded as the sun went down and candles began to flicker.

A three course Mediterranean style meal, consisting of bread, dips, salads, platters of grilled meat and fish, potatoes and roasted vegetables, rounded off with a yoghurt and honey pannacotta was served to the tables.

While the guests enjoyed their food, the show took place around them. There is no stage, instead, the talented and vocally strong cast (led by Sisse Eriksson from the original Swedish production of Mamma Mia!), delivered their dialogue, sang and danced between the tables on the restaurant floor.

The actors often engaged with the guests and encouraged audience interaction. From the first bar of the first song everyone was singing and clapping along…Agnetha and Frida included! Sitting together on a table to one side of the room, the pair could clearly be seen holding hands and singing the harmonies to the ABBA tracks that they made famous.

Benny and Björn sat at neighbouring tables surrounded by family and close friends.

The show was split into three acts to allow for the service of food and drinks, but there was never a dull moment. During the breaks, the audience was entertained by performers in Cirque du Soleil style.

“As the four of us are here, Agnetha and I think we should do something” – Frida

Towards the end of the final act, ‘ABBA’ suddenly rose from their chairs, pushed their way through the crowded room and stepped up on to a small, raised, dance platform. The premiere audience went wild with whoops of delight and disbelief as the four stood together on stage smiling and waving at them.

Afterwards, Benny told icethesite that the, already iconic, moment had not been planned.

“It was entirely impromptu,” he said. “And it was the girls’ idea! Frida came over to me during the show and said: “As the four of us are here, Agnetha and I think we should do something”. I said “Yeah, why not, so we spoke to Björn and that is how it happened”.

Following the performance, tables were cleared and the restaurant transformed into a nightclub. Agnetha, Benny, Björn and Frida watched on from a first floor balcony as guests partied below.

Although the songs in Mamma Mia! The Party are all sung in English, the dialogue during Mamma Mia! The Party is currently only performed in Swedish. However, Björn has said that he is working on an English script translation and that he hopes to have an English language version of the show ready by Spring, in time for many international visitors to Stockholm for Eurovision 2016.

If the Stockholm production is a success, Mamma Mia! The Party may roll out to other cities around the world.

There’s more…

‘Kristina från Duvemåla’ opens in Stockholm as ‘Mamma Mia!’ closes on Broadway

On Saturday 12 September 2015, almost 20 years after Kristina från Duvemåla first premiered at Malmö’s Musikteater, the latest and last official production of the Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Lars Rudolfsson musical opened at Cirkus theatre on the Stockholm island of Djurgården.

Benny & Björn on stage at the last premiere of 'Kristina'
Benny, Björn and Lars on stage at the Stockholm premiere of ‘Kristina från Duvemåla’

We will not ourselves stage ‘Kristina’ again. We have done it six times now and we all feel that is enough – Benny Andersson.

The red-carpet event was attended by all three of the show’s creators accompanied by their wives, family members and a host of famous faces including Görel Hanser, set designer Robin Wagner, Benny’s son Peter and Nanne Grönvall, Peter Jöback, Anders Ekborg, Ingmarie Halling, Gunilla Backman, Anders Glenmark, Anders Hanser and Kristina Lugn.

Featuring Maria Ylipää as Kristina, Robert Noack as Karl Oskar, Oskar Nilsson as Robert and Birthe Wingren as Ulrika, the Cirkus staging remains virtually unchanged from the hugely successful 2013/14 Helsinki and 2014/15 Gothenburg productions.

The experience of the cast was evident and the consistently strong, polished performances delivered seamlessly throughout the four-hour show were rewarded by rapturous applause and standing ovations from the first-night audience. But it will come as no surprise, that the loudest cheer of the evening was, undoubtedly, for Benny and Björn as they joined the cast and production team on stage for a curtain call.

Kristina’ will play at Cirkus until Spring 2016. However, regardless of the demand for tickets, it must then close. Extending the run is not an option as the theatre is already booked for subsequent seasons.

And Benny has confirmed to icethesite that this will be the very last opportunity for audiences to see the musical as they envisage it:

“We will not ourselves stage ‘Kristina’ again,” he said. “We have done it six times now and we all feel that is enough.

“The scaled down production designed for the smaller theatre space in Helsinki was an experiment. We were not sure it would work, but its success proves that it is a feasible project for any theatre, so maybe it is now time for someone else to have a go and do it their way,” he told us.

Benny added that although they had discussed recording the current production, with a DVD release in mind, they had decided against the idea.

“We see each performance as a living thing that is best experienced in a live theatre environment,” he explained. “So if people really want to see it they will have to come to Cirkus before next summer!” he said.

Recent press articles have drawn a lot of comparisons between the problems faced by emigrants like Kristina and those caught up in the current refugee situation. But Benny himself is not convinced that this will help Kristina från Duvemåla appeal to a new or wider audience as the media has suggested.

“It is incredible timing and seems very appropriate that we have opened now, but I don’t know if it will alter our audience numbers,” he said. “However, it is true that we are dealing with many of the same issues, so if the resemblance helps someone to think about and understand the plight of such people, well, that can only be a good thing for everyone, I suppose,” he concluded.

Judy Cramer at the final performance of Mamma Mia! on Broadway - Photo:David Gorden
Judy Cramer and cast at the final performance of Mamma Mia! on Broadway – Photo: David Gorden

By coincidence, as the curtain rose for ‘Kristina’ in Stockholm last Saturday, so it fell on the Broadway production of Benny and Björn’s other musical Mamma Mia! Therefore, although Mamma Mia!’s producer Judy Cramer was at the Broadhurst Theatre for the final performance (which was described by U.S. theatre critics as more like a rock concert than a Broadway musical!), neither, Benny or Björn were able to be in New York due to the clash of dates.

“We did send a video message to the cast to say ‘Thank you!’ though, ” Benny said. “And under any other circumstance we wouldn’t have hesitated to attend. But when it comes to a choice between an opening night or a closing night? Well, no contest!” he declared.

Related links:

He’s A Man, He’s A Child/Han är en man, han är ett barn

The fantastic song Han är en man, han är ett barn, written for CHESS (på Svenska) the Swedish production of CHESS, is to be released soon in its English form He’s A Man, He’s A Child.

The song in Swedish is available on the album and DVD of CHESS (på Svenska) performed by Josefin Nilsson.

He’s A Man, He’s A Child (Andersson/Ulvaeus) is from CHESS In Concert (Benny Andersson, Tim Rice, Björn Ulvaeus) and performed by Reidun Sæther with the Arctic Philharmonic, orchestrated and conducted by Anders Eljas.

Reidun Sæther

The track will be available to download from places such as iTunes and Spotify soon.

Here is a preview: